An Interview You Can’t Refuse: Gamertell talks to EA Redwood Shores about The Godfather II

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The Godfather II EA Redwood Shores

It’s not personal – it’s business. It’s a concept from the original Godfather movies that holds true even in EA’s Godfather games. You think strategically and take actions that will put the family in the best possible position. When The Godfather II is released April 7, 2009, PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 owners will be called upon to take care of business again – moving up in the ranks and becoming a dons who leads their own crime families in New York, Havana and Miami.

Well, maybe perhaps players will start taking things personally once The Godfather II‘s out. After all, it will be the first entry in the series with multiplayer, and your friends may take it personally if you whack them.

Gamertell was fortunate enough to get the chance to talk to John Salera, the EA Redwood Shores Senior Development Director, about the studios’ work on The Godfather II game.

Gamertell: How long has EA Redwood Shores been working on The Godfather II?
John Salera, EA Senior Development Director We’ve actively been working on it since early in 2007. But if you look at what we did when we built the 360 version of The Godfather: The Game and then the PS3/Wii versions of The Godfather: The Game, you can see we were starting to play around more with some of the concepts that became central in GFII: building up your crew, a more robust RPG system, and finding ways to enhance the racket gameplay.

GT: How closely would you say The Godfather II game follows the events and story of The Godfather: Part II?
JS: As you know the events in the second Godfather movie occur across two time periods: the early 1900’s and the late 1950’s / early 1960’s. When making a video game based on another property, be it a movie, a book, or anything else, it’s very important to determine what makes the most sense and will be the most fun when you have a controller in your hands. We focus on the latter part of the story. And in particular, we use the story told in the movie as a backdrop to the story the player’s character – Dominic – experiences. There are key touch-points that people will recognize from the film like the blackmail of Senator Geary or the meeting of the Dons in Cuba, and Dominic plays an important role in many elements of that story while following his own experience and building his own empire within the Corleone Family.

GT: So far, only PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 versions have been announced. Any chance of a Wii version sometime before the end of 2009?
JS: We really enjoyed how The Godfather: Blackhand Edition turned out on the Wii but there we don’t have any news about that right now.

GT: It has been confirmed that Robert Duvall is returning to reprise his roll as Tom Hagen in The Godfather II, will any of the other original actors be appearing in the game?
JS: Unfortunately, several of the characters played by the actors we worked with on The Godfather: The Game didn’t survive to the end of the first movie. It was great to have the chance to work with Robert Duvall again – he’s a total pro. And, his return as Tom Hagen plays both a key role in the story line, as well as adds a key feature to the player. When the player is looking to send his family members to bomb or take over a rival family’s venue, Tom will give the player advice as to whether the attack will be successful.

GT: Can you give us any details on how, or if, the story changes depending on whether or not players choose to side with Hyman Roth or the Corleone Family?
JS: The story line for Dominic doesn’t fork based on how you play. The freedom for the player is in how you achieve the next goal or story event point. How you decide to build your empire through taking over and defending the rackets and crime rings, how you build your family, and which families you aggravate the most provide a play experience which is quite varied.

GT: The Godfather II is the first in the series to cover multiple cities. Will New York City, Havana and Miami be as detailed and open as Little Italy was in The Godfather: The Game?
JS: With Godfather II, we greatly improved upon how we built the world. We were able to build cities that are much more 3D in nature. The player has more freedom, is afforded opportunities to be more creative in how they approach a given situation, and is treated to much greater visual variety. The team worked hard to bring three very different locations to life, while also improving both the visuals and game play in those spaces.

The Godfather II EA

GT: It seems like the characters and environments in The Godfather II look even more detailed and lifelike than they did in The Godfather: The Game. How did you pull this off?
JS: Thanks. The team worked hard on improving every visual aspect of the game. We co-developed the renderer with the Dead Space team, and made numerous improvements to our engine which affords us much more freedom in how we built the world and added a lot of bells and whistles. The characters, in addition to being a visual step-up from Godfather, are also much more varied in their appearances. Previously, we were much more limited in the variety of NPC’s we could have displayed at the same time. In Godfather II, every NPC is visually unique in some regard. We also greatly increased the variety and visual quality of our vehicles.

GT: What new or tweaked returning elements of The Godfather II are you especially proud of?
JS: I think the answer would vary based on who you asked this of on the team, because we each have our own favorite parts of the game. But for me personally, it’s how different each of the cities feel. We didn’t want to create huge, massive spaces where all you’re doing is commuting from one spot to another. Instead we focused on creating three cities that each feel different and are densely packed with game play opportunities. I really like the pacing and how the player is given access to the cities as it ramps the challenge well.

GT: In The Godfather II, players have the ability to command a squad of gangsters – how many underlings can you have at once, and how does this affect gameplay? Does this mean that there are multiple ways to handle missions?
JS: A huge part of Godfather II is building your family. As you progress through the game, building up your empire, you will be able to hire up to 7 Family Members. These are special NPC’s which you can customize with RPG attribute upgrades, promote through the ranks and add skill specialties, arm with weapon upgrades, and even select their clothing style.

You can select up to 3 of the Family Members into battle with you as Crew. You can also command your Family Members remotely via the Don’s View to attack or bomb enemy locations and defend locations you control. Which Family Members you select to be your active Crew, how you’ve customized and invested in them, and which specialties you’ve given them adds variety to every aspect of the game. In addition, many of the rackets you fight through to gain control will have multiple paths utilizing different specialties and their defenses will vary based on the standing of the competing family.

The Godfather II Don's View

GT: The “Don’s View” adds a strategic element to The Godfather II that wasn’t in The Godfather: The Game. What inspired you to add in this extra gameplay element, and do you feel it adds a new level of realism to the game?
JS: Early on we decided to focus on the organized part of organized crime. What distinguishes the crime families in the Godfather universe is that they don’t just run around the streets randomly blowing things up and killing people – their actions always have a purpose. And that purpose is to further develop their empire, weaken an enemy empire, and always to increase their income.

The Don’s View – a 3D model of each city – is a view into how a Don would think about the world. Where are the key rackets? Who owns them? How well are they defended? What locations do I need to take over to complete my Crime Rings? The Don’s View and the entire strategy layer we added to Godfather II are there to give the player’s actions context and meaning – just like a real Don. You are calling the shots this time around and the Don’s view is a great tool to help players make those decisions.

GT: The reactions of rival families in The Godfather II, like constant assaults on businesses, sabotaging establishments and strategic attacks, seem like very realistic behaviors. What inspired the complex behavior patterns of opposing families?
JS: In the early development stages of the strategy aspect of Godfather II, we created a card game to model that part of the overall experience. All of the elements were represented in simple form: rackets, fronts, guards, made men, income, guards, attacking, bombing, and defending. Over the course of months, we played numerous sessions and refined both the rule set and how the AI behaved. In order to get realistic decision-making on the part of the AI families, at each step we compared what the players of the card game did with how our AI model was working. Over time, we were able to get the AI to behave like the players by ensuring they valued the various decisions in the way the people showed they were.

The Godfather II EA

GT: Likewise, it is also intriguing that certain opponents have to be strategically investigated and assassinated in order to permanently remove them as an adversary. Can you offer an example of some key players who can, or can’t, be removed from the game using this tactical approach?
JS: Taking out a Hit on an enemy Family Member is a powerful tactic the player can pursue. The targets are the Made Men, Consiglieri, and eventually even the Don’s of the opposing families. By performing favors for people in the world, the player will be rewarded with intel as to the hangouts and kill conditions for the other Family Members. By tracking down their targets and executing them with the correct kill condition, the player can permanently remove an opposing Family Member from the game. Otherwise if you just kill an opposing Family Member, he will be hospitalized and return after a time, just like your Family Members.

The Don’s are a special case. They are each found in their Compounds – well guarded fortresses which only become available to attack once the player has taken over all of that family’s rackets and fronts. To kill the Don, the player must have one of his Demo Crew members set a charge on the gas main, and then escape the building before it blows up in a massive fireball.

GT: The multiplayer mode is one of the biggest surprises of The Godfather II. What made you decide to include this extra element to the game?
JS: Building up your family, and then taking them online was one of the original pillars of our game development strategy. Just like a crime family, we wanted players to be able to interact in a cooperative and competitive community online. In Godfather II, the single player experience focuses on the main character Dominic and his ascendancy in the Corleone family. However, The Family Members the player hires in the single-player game are the characters that are available in online play. So, how the player builds his family, how he invests in them and customizes them is important not only to the single-player game, but also to the multiplayer experience.

GT: We already know that performance in multiplayer can provide players with extra money and weapon licenses. Are there any other perks that come from being the best The Godfather II multiplayer player, other than bragging rights?
JS: Having the connection between the single-player and multiplayer games was important to us since we didn’t want multiplayer to feel tacked-on like it sometimes can. What the player does in multiplayer affects the single-player experience. As the players perform different tasks based on their specialty or specialties, as well as racks up kills and executions they’ll earn income which will go to their single-player bank roll.

Also, as they play online games, they’ll accumulate Honors. Once enough Honors are earned, the player can assign higher and higher level weapons to these Family Members – both in single-player and multiplayer games. This is a huge benefit.

Bragging rights via Leaderboards is also a key perk. And that’s not all, we have some more exciting multiplayer coming soon.

GT: Is there anything else you want players to know about the latest entry in the series? Perhaps any aspect that you’re particularly proud of, or that you think really makes The Godfather II stand out?
JS: Mainly, we hope people have fun playing the game! We had a lot of support from our fans after they got their hands on The Godfather: The Game, and the team worked very hard to give them a sequel which improves on nearly every aspect of the original. We tried to fix the most common complaints, and keep the best parts intact, and also add in some brand new things like multiplayer and the Don’s View.

GT: With the original Godfather game doing so well, and such a great buzz around The Godfather II, would it be realistic to expect a game based on The Godfather: Part III?
JS: Well we’d love to tell you the answer to that, but we’d have to eliminate you if we did, so probably better to let that one sit just now….

Gamertell would like to thank John Salera for taking the time to speak with us about The Godfather II.

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